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The parochial illusion of Sam Rainsy

KT/Fabien Mouret

Extremist figures have long dotted the landscape of Cambodian politics. One of them in contemporary Cambodia is Sam Rainsy, a master illusionist who thrives on political polemics, parochial rhetoric and demagogy who will thrive on attention at any costs, including bloodshed.

His latest stunt of passing messages that he will return to Cambodia around the independence day, which coincides with this year’s water festival is another obnoxious and pathetic attempt to boost his faltering, bruised and battered ego, is in the hope to mislead public perception by claiming that hundreds of thousands, if not millions will or would come to the capital to welcome him upon his assumed return, when the crowd are there for the water festival.

By making this irresponsible statement of a significant date, he is trying to hijack and tarnish the image of His Majesty, the late King Father who fought and won Cambodia’s independence. This is unacceptable at any cost.

Sam Rainsy is the master of populist politics who use and rely on gutter, unrealistic political rhetoric in the hope of getting political gains. He stands for manipulation and mischief-making, traits which are never associated with nationalism or patriotism.

His oratory skills and fake information somehow appeals to his benefactors as has only agenda is to top the current regime with continuously spewing venomous misleading information and insults, not only at the country’s leadership but also the inviolable Majesty the King.

So, what does the speculated return of this disgraceful politician mean?

It means more misery, social disorder when there is peace and stability, and chaos through his destructive and manipulative politics as well as political instability and toxic havoc. Cambodians, especially those who blindly follow Sam Rainsy, will suffer.

Sam Rainsy has called on armed insurrection together with mass people movement to topple the existing legitimate government. He claimed that he would return to Cambodia to arrest Prime Minister Hun Sen. He has even taken measures to marginalize Kem Sokha’s faction. Big words for a politician who is nothing but a serial coward.

Unlike Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha has stayed and underwent the legal process when he could have fled the country like his political partner. One is a patriot who believes in his cause while the other is a demagogue who will dance to the tune of his hidden sullied benefactors.

Rainsy’s return to Cambodia could possibly lead to the death of democracy, turning the country into a period of uncertainty and instability.

Cambodian democracy is vulnerable to political extremism and populist politics. The level of people’s education to understand and separate illusion from realities is marginal. Hence some people are attracted to populist rhetoric and fake news spread by an irresponsible social media.

Extremist demagogues emerge from time to time in all societies, even in healthy democracies. In the case of Rainsy and his cohorts, an essential test of this kind of vulnerability isn’t whether such figures emerge but whether responsible political leaders can work together to prevent political extremists from gaining power.

The tragic paradox of the emergence of a divisive and destructive politician like Rainsy poses significant threat to a thriving Cambodian democracy and development.

How should the government respond?

The national and local authorities must take all measures and build response capabilities in all scenarios and circumstances.

In the scenario that Sam Rainsy will return, either by land or air, the government needs to cooperate with relevant stakeholders and neighboring countries to quietly arrest him.

The government has shown confidence that it could control and manage the situation. However, some Cambodians and foreign investors are still concerned about the political and economic risks associated with the return of Sam Rainsy. The government therefore needs to improve its public communication strategy.

Cambodians and foreign investors need to understand that the return of Sam Rainsy, if he respects his own words, will be a political endgame. Risks and opportunities are intertwined. The risks can be mitigated and minimized through effective, efficient responses from the state. The opportunities for Cambodia are to eliminate the roots of all evils and build a new chapter for Cambodia without threats from populist politics.

Without Sam Rainsy, Cambodia will enjoy a better and brighter future but with the condition that the ruling elites take tough measures to win people’s heart through reforms. Building a clean, smart, inclusive, and innovative governance is a must.

Reform failure is more dangerous than the presence of Sam Rainsy. Accelerating reforms, developing aclean government, building internal unity based on fairness and justice, and striking a balance between peace, development and democracy are matters of life and death for Cambodia.

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